Muhammad Ali (born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. on January 17, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky), passed away Friday evening, June 3, 2016, after a short hospitalization for a respiratory illness. He had suffered from Parkinson’s disease for many years.
As the world mourns “The Greatest of All Time”, staff and volunteers at community radio WORT-FM recall Muhammad Ali.
“I first met ‘The Champ’ on the southside of Chicago when he came to speak at my school in 1967,” recalls WORT Operations Coordinattor Norman Stockwell. “Then, a couple years later, our small anti-war group was gathering signatures on a petition against the use of napalm in Vietnam at a Chicago-area shopping center – suddenly Muhammad Ali casually walked up, asked us about the petition and immediately signed on! He was quickly on his way, leaving us with only the memory.”
His humanitarian work continued throughout his life and included taking over $2 million of medical supplies to Cuba in two trips in the late-1990s (Stockwell was there for one of those visits, but did not meet Ali that time).
Ali first came to Madison in 1959 as the 17-year-old Cassius Clay, fighting – and losing the championship bout — in the Pan-American Games tournament at the UW Field House.
When he came back as Muhammad Ali in April, 1968, it wasn’t to fight – he had been convicted of failing to register for the draft, and was suspended from boxing – but to preach black separatism. WORT volunteer Stu Levitan tells the story in his Madison History Podcast earlier this Spring:
Ali was convicted of refusing induction into the military in June 1967, and during his trial, evidence first emerged of the FBI’s massive wire-tapping of activists including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. A recent article in the Guardian newspaper, based on recently declassified documents, shows that the NSA was listening in as well. His conviction was latter overturned by the US Supreme Court in 1971, and he was able to return to the ring.
Muhammad Ali made one final visit to Madison in October 1995 for an autograph-signing appearance , covered for Isthmus by Stuart Levitan (who is now vice-president of WORT’s Board of Directors).
President Obama in a statement today said “Muhammad Ali was The Greatest.Period.“
Pacifica Radio’s Mark Torres, in commemoration of Ali’s passing, posted this mashup of a 1968 interview from the Pacifica Radio Archives.
The great Muhammad Ali will be remembered in numerous ways around the world in the weeks and years to come. His lifelong commitment to justice and equality will be especially remembered here at WORT.